The government is set to bolster its COVID vaccine programme by reportedly shipping out millions more jabs to vaccination centres within days.
According to The Times, some 2 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, first given to grandmother Margaret Keenan in December, will be distributed, having initially been held back for booster shots.
It comes after Boris Johnson announced his intention for the 13 million most vulnerable people to be given the jab by 15 February.
Around 1.3 million people in the UK have already received the first dose of the vaccine, while seven mass vaccination centres – including at at sports stadiums and exhibition centres – are set to open next week.
Watch: Boris Johnson outlines vaccination programme ahead
The government is under pressure to ramp up its vaccination programme after a third national lockdown was introduced on Tuesday.
Some 5 million finished doses are still waiting final safety checks and approval, but COVID vaccine deployment minister Nadim Zahawi said there will be a “massive acceleration” in numbers vaccinated in the coming days.
He told Sky News: “I’m confident that as we begin to deploy and get more sites operational – I talked about the hospitals, the GPs, the community pharmacies and the national vaccination centres – so we will be at over 1,000 sites vaccinating.
“I’m confident you will see, certainly from 4 January to 11 January, a real step up.
“So we’ve done over 1.3 million [vaccinations] since 8 December, you’re going to see a massive acceleration of that.”
When asked if more than 2 million people needed to be vaccinated a week to reach the mid-February target of vaccinating almost 14 million people, Zahawi added: “You’re going to see that increase – the NHS have got a very clear plan.
“We’ve got a fantastic team working, seven days a week, all hours to deliver this.
“No doubt, it is a stretching target. But I think it’s one that we should absolutely look to deliver.”
Zahawi said 99% of COVID deaths can be reduced by vaccinating people in the nine categories listed by the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
When asked how long it would take to give jabs to those groups, Zahawi said: “I’m very hopeful that by the spring we will get through the nine categories.”
While setting out the ambitious steps, Zahawi accepted that the target to get almost 14 million people vaccinated by next month is a “stretching target” but he was confident it would be delivered.
Describing the vaccine programme as a Herculean effort, Zahawi said it included setting up vaccine hubs at community and independent pharmacies.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth pressured the government to role out the vaccination programme further.
He tweeted: “Community Pharmacy already deliver flu jabs, are respected and trusted by local people.
“As well as GPs, community pharmacy should be mobilised everywhere to meet the vaccine challenge.
“We need to go further and faster on vaccination. There isn’t a moment to lose.”
Professor Nilay Shah, from Imperial College London, described the government’s aim as an “ambitious target and needs everything to click every day”.
Community Pharmacy already deliver flu jabs, are respected and trusted by local people.
As well as GPs, community pharmacy should be mobilised everywhere to meet the vaccine challenge.
We need to go further and faster on vaccination. There isn’t a moment to lose. pic.twitter.com/kUvIjtto9Z
— Jonathan Ashworth 😷 (@JonAshworth) January 6, 2021
Shah said to vaccinate the top four priority groups with two doses of the vaccine by the government’s target would require 400,000 doses a day for seven days a week.
He added: “If the aim is for the first dose for the top four priority groups by mid-February, then we would need to hit 200,000 doses a day, again this is achievable but everything needs to go right every single day.”
Shah said that the programme was “still in the ramp-up phase” and the levels to dose over 13 million people “are several times higher than those achieved in peak influenza vaccination”.
However, he added that the levels “in principle are achievable with additional resources and effective co-ordination”.
Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown